From Foucault to Freire Through Facebook: Toward an Integrated Theory of mHealth

Health Educ Behav. 2016 Aug;43(4):399-411. doi: 10.1177/1090198115605310. Epub 2015 Sep 17.


Objective: To document the integration of social science theory in literature on mHealth (mobile health) and consider opportunities for integration of classic theory, health communication theory, and social networking to generate a relevant theory for mHealth program design.

Method: A secondary review of research syntheses and meta-analyses published between 2005 and 2014 related to mHealth, using the AMSTAR (A Measurement Tool to Assess Systematic Reviews) methodology for assessment of the quality of each review. High-quality articles from those reviews using a randomized controlled design and integrating social science theory in program design, implementation, or evaluation were reviewed. Results There were 1,749 articles among the 170 reviews with a high AMSTAR score (≥30). Only 13 were published from 2005 to 2014, used a randomized controlled design and made explicit mention of theory in any aspect of their mHealth program. All 13 included theoretical perspectives focused on psychological and/or psychosocial theories and constructs. Conclusions There is a very limited use of social science theory in mHealth despite demonstrated benefits in doing so. We propose an integrated theory of mHealth that incorporates classic theory, health communication theory, and social networking to guide development and evaluation of mHealth programs.

Keywords: digital health; intervention development; mHealth; research synthesis; theory.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Health Behavior*
  • Health Promotion / methods*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Meta-Analysis as Topic
  • Psychological Theory
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Social Media* / statistics & numerical data
  • Social Support
  • Social Theory
  • Telemedicine / methods*